Book Review: Chronicles of a Radical Hag (With Recipes)

Chronicles of a Radical Hag (with Recipes) by Lorna Landvik

A bittersweet, seriously funny novel of a life, a small town, and a key to our troubled times traced through a newspaper columnist’s half-century of taking in, and taking on, the world

The curmudgeon who wrote the column “Ramblin’s by Walt” in the Granite Creek Gazette dismissed his successor as “puking on paper.” But when Haze Evans first appeared in the small-town newspaper, she earned fans by writing a story about her bachelor uncle who brought a Queen of the Rodeo to Thanksgiving dinner. Now, fifty years later, when the beloved columnist suffers a massive stroke and falls into a coma, publisher Susan McGrath fills the void (temporarily, she hopes) with Haze’s past columns, along with the occasional reprinted responses from readers. Most letters were favorable, although Haze did have her trolls; one Joseph Snell in particular dubbed her “liberal” ideas the “chronicles of a radical hag.” Never censoring herself, Haze chose to mollify her critics with homey recipes—recognizing, in her constantly practical approach to the world and her community, that buttery Almond Crescents will certainly “melt away any misdirected anger.”

Framed by news stories of half a century and annotated with the town’s chorus of voices, Haze’s story unfolds, as do those of others touched by the Granite Creek Gazette, including Susan, struggling with her troubled marriage, and her teenage son Sam, who—much to his surprise—enjoys his summer job reading the paper archives and discovers secrets that have been locked in the files for decades, along with sad and surprising truths about Haze’s past.

With her customary warmth and wit, Lorna Landvik summons a lifetime at once lost and recovered, a complicated past that speaks with knowing eloquence to a confused present. Her topical but timeless Chronicles of a Radical Hag reminds us—sometimes with a subtle touch, sometimes with gobsmacking humor—of the power of words and of silence, as well as the wonder of finding in each other what we never even knew we were missing.

Review:
I was absolutely drawn into this book by it’s fantastic title, and it did not disappoint. I tore through this uniquely written book and enjoyed getting to know the characters of this small town — and reading the yummy recipes!!
The book uses Hazel’s newspaper columns from over 50 years to structure the story of Hazel, the people in her life, and the people who’s lives were touched by her columns. It seems like this might be confusing, but it isn’t because it’s handled really well.
I love Hazel and her no nonsense point of view. She is not shy on giving her opinion and has the courage to say things that might be unpopular — with the understanding that at least she will be engaging people in important discussions.
This book gives strong opinions on a lot of hot social and political topics — everything from feminism, to gay rights, to war, and beyond. I imagine that the author was hoping to be like Hazel, to put her thoughts out there and inspire some discussion. I did find that near the end, it felt like a lot of issues were being thrown at the reader in a bit of a rush.
One of my favourite characters was Sam, the struggling teenager who learns to find his way, largely through reading through Hazel’s columns. He’s absolutely adorable and it was nice to see the growth in this teen and how he learned to inspire others.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for granting me a review copy of this book.
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